On June 24, I shared the majority of this commentary in a Facebook post to honor the memory and legacy of Ahmaud Arbery. Arbery was a young Black man whose life was senselessly ended by the racist hate of three White men as he jogged in Georgia. The race of the perpetrators and the victim is important to note because it was a hate crime. The designation of an act as a hate crime requires an evil intent based on some descriptive reality, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Hate crimes based on race have historically been the most common in America. Arbery was targeted because he was African American, not because he had done anything wrong. He was jogging, like White men and women his age do in America every day. But what made him different? The difference was the confusion, hate, and sin in the hearts of those who murdered him.
On Tuesday, June 23, by an overwhelming bipartisan majority, the Georgia legislature approved a comprehensive Hate Crimes bill. This is the first such law ever passed in the state. Though this is historic and important, it is also tragic. It tragically points out how insidious systemic racism is in America. Stone Mountain, Georgia, is the “symbolic birthplace of the
Ku Klux Klan.” Georgia is the state with the record for having had the second-highest number of confirmed lynchings (458) in this country. The history of confirmed lynchings in Georgia dates from 1877 until today. The most recently noted hate crime in Georgia was last year. A 16-year-old White girl plotted to bomb a black church in an effort to kill Black churchgoers. Without question, there are hundreds of more hate crimes that remain unconfirmed. Until this week, Georgia had no hate crime law to provide justice for victims of such crimes and their families. As recently as November of 2019, a hate crimes bill was introduced in the Georgia legislature, but failed for lack of a majority.
The death of Arbery moved the conscience of many right-thinking Georgians to push for a long-overdue Hate Crimes law. Georgia had been one of only four states in the union without a hate crimes law. Today, I remember with heartfelt compassion the life and legacy of Ahmaud Arbery. I am deeply saddened by the tragic loss of his life and the suffering and grief of his family, but I am encouraged that their pain will not be in vain. I pray that no more people of African descent will have to lose their life for America to see the need to confess and repent from the sin that has seethed at the heart of this nation for more than 400 years. The sin of racism.
I pray that each of us may be catalysts of truth and that we may not merely “go along to get along.” I pray we will directly point to the pain and suffering that African Americans and other people of color have experienced daily in America and work to change it. And, I pray we may all continue to work together to bring about a genuine system of justice and equity in this land. A system that includes all and privileges no individual or group over another, but instead provides equal benefits, rights, and opportunities to all. This is the America of which I dream. It is the country my ancestors helped to build and the country I want to leave to those who will come after me.
In thoughtful remembrance,
Rev. Paul Hobson Sadler, Sr, Senior Pastor
Mt. Zion Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
10723 Magnolia Drive
Cleveland, OH 44106